Ombudsman snowed under

The Office of the Ombudsmen is in "crisis", with a bulging backlog of cases due to lack of investigators and existing staff underpaid and in some cases being worked to death, Ombudsman Beverley Wakem says.

Appearing before Parliament's government administration committee yesterday, Ms Wakem said the office was under "considerable pressure" in terms of staffing and funding and had been for the past three years.

Ms Wakem said the office's baseline funding had been established on the basis it would be actively working on 800 to 1000 cases at any one time.

However, actual case numbers had been far higher than that for some time and been close to 2000 at one point last year. It was currently handling about 1854.

The office had about 300 cases it was unable to work on because of a lack of available investigators.

The office's workload had also been increased by about 270 complaints stemming from quake victims' dealings with the Earthquake Commission and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.

Ms Wakem also expected public sector reforms would likely increase the workload, particularly where back of house support services or complaints processes for individual agencies were amalgamated.

The office, she said, was "sinking under the weight of the complaint burden".

"I'd say we are in crisis."

The repercussions for the public would be delays in handling complaints"At the end of the day that isn't acceptable. Justice delayed is justice denied and people are already distressed when they approach the office."

Ms Wakem said she had asked for the office's baseline budget to be increased from its current level of $8.6 million by about $1 million, which would allow it to meet its operating costs and employ two more investigators.

While she recognised the Government was requiring all of the departments and agencies it funded to do more with less, Ms Wakem said starving her office of the funding it required was a false economy as it played a central role in ensuring government spending was of high quality.


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